You can teach someone math, science, writing and any number of academic subjects, but how do you go about teaching empathy?
You’d think empathy is something that comes naturally, but it’s a lot harder to grasp than you think. That’s why Dr. Brene Brown is gaining notoriety for her writings about our most important emotions. Of all the themes she touches upon, empathy versus sympathy seems to be the most relevant these days.
Empathy vs. Sympathy
Is empathy just a synonym for sympathy?
Many might think so, but that’s far from the case according to Dr. Brown. To her, empathy consists of four qualities. It all starts with the ability to absorb the perspective of another person. Then staying away from any judgment, recognizing the emotion in that person and then finally, communicating it.
Sympathy is feeling for people, while empathy is feeling with people. So how do we convey this lesson to children?
Teaching Empathy Is More Important Than You Think
We tend to think academia is the most important tool for success in our culture, but don’t forget about emotional education. Without learning the fundamentals of empathy, life in the real world will only become more difficult. The good thing about empathy is that we encounter situations that require it every day.
Remember when you were a child and you saw someone fall, scrape their knee and start crying on the playground? You probably felt empathetic for them because you could relate to that experience. Maybe you went up to them, helped them up and calmed them down. You felt their pain and shared the experience. Of course, that’s a very basic example, but learning empathy one way or another is one of the most important qualities for young citizens.
Sympathy Is Overrated
Sympathy is rarely related to negativity, but Dr. Brown is not a fan. She says sympathetic people are constantly putting a “silver lining” over things. You know the type. You might complain to them that your job is really stressful and they respond, “at least, you have a job.”
Are they right? Sure, but that doesn’t make you feel better at all.
The empathetic person would simply hear you out, try to relate and even thank you for sharing their feelings. It’s not always about finding a solution to the problem but instead, finding someone who relates to your problem. That is what Dr. Brown tries to convey through her teachings.
We could all learn a thing or two about empathy. You can start with this video from Dr. Brown herself!